By Karen Pasos
"AH!" A young babysitter screams in terror in the slasher movie playing in the living room, echoing throughout the spacious apartment. I shake my head, once again paying my debts to a man I call my father, if the title is even fitting.
Trevor: Come on, babe. You know you can't stay mad at me forever, right?
As I move over to put the popcorn in the microwave, my phone rings again. While I write my angry message, the microwave blasts off, causing me to nearly drop my phone.
Me: You're such an ass, Trevor. I hope you and Marissa Mayers have a great time at Jake's party.
Trevor: Come on. Don't be like that, Nova. I told you already, I wasn't flirting with her.
I decide to ignore him for the rest of the night, or at least temporarily. He is probably going to get wasted and then call me.
My 7-year-old brother yells, "Nova!" The roar of thunder shakes the apartment's windows and walls. I stroll out to the living room to see Max’s small foot creeping under the couch cushions.
"Ah!" I scream as I grab his foot and drag him out. His terrified expression makes me laugh so hard I get a cramp. I stop laughing when I see Max standing a few feet away from the couch, hands on hips, and a scowl on his pudgy face.
“Sorry, Max. That's what you get for watching so many scary movies late at night. I told you I wouldn't let you sneak into my bed when you wake up terrified." I lay my feet down on the couch and turn over to see his expression. His eyes water, so I kick my feet off and walk over to him, kneeling to meet his short stature.
"I was only kidding," I tell him, brushing his curly brown hair out of the way and tracing my thumb over his rosy cheeks. He starts crying and places his head in the crook of my neck. I am his safe place.
"It's okay, buddy. I'm sorry." I rub his back as he cries and cries for what seems like hours, but only a couple of minutes have passed. "How about we get some pizza and skip the popcorn?" I move him away as he sniffs and wipes his eyes and nose. I grimace but give him a supportive awkward smile.
“Let's do it. Pepperoni and bacon?" I insist, smiling. He nods and smiles back, before hugging me firmly and hopping back on top of the sofa, his gaze returning to the movie.
After I order the pizza, I step into the living room where Max is calmly watching the movie. 45 minutes go by and I hear a couple of knocks on the door and a low cry of “pizza” from the other side. Reaching for my wallet, I pull a five-dollar bill and stroll up to the door, leaving Max engrossed in the movie.
"Hey, what's up? A large pepperoni and bacon pizza with cheesy sticks?" Outside, a cute twenty-something-year-old guy stands holding the pizza box, his dimples on full display as he smiles at me.
"Thank you!" I say as he hands me the pizza and takes the five dollar bill I hold out for him.
"Have a nice night," he says as he gives me a wider smile before walking down the hallway, turning back to look at me. I smile to myself, closing the door before a swift shadow on the left side of the hall causes me to stop and turn around.
A towering dark figure stands in the corner at the end of the hall. His hands rest deep in the pockets of his pants, torso leaning against the wall. Although his face is obscured, his strong jaw and long beard stand out in the dark. As he slowly steps forward into the light, his lips split open to reveal a frightening smile. He gestures back at me, and the thin hairs on my forearms spring up, chills running through my body. For a second, I remain motionless, clutching the pizza box. His black eyes remain fixed on me, as his long legs move closer in my direction. I quickly close the door, locking it twice, and chaining the top.
My chest flutters up and down, like if I've just raced a 5k, and my hands shiver in fear. This is the point in the movie when suspenseful music begins to play, just as the girl is about to be slain in the movie Max is watching, and I startle at the scream that follows.
"What the hell?" My heart races so fast that I wouldn't be surprised if it popped out of my chest at any minute.
"Yay! Pizza!" Max finally pulls his gaze away from the movie and snatches the pizza box from my grip.
I return my gaze to the door and settle back down on the couch, shaking my head to clear my mind of any ridiculous notions. It's only Halloween, after all. My phone begins to ring, and I look down to see the name flashing on the screen.
"How is my best-friend spending this lovely Hallow’s Eve night?" I find the remark amusing.
"Hey, Caro. Shouldn't you be at Jake's party right now?" As I get up from the couch and walk over to the floor-to-ceiling window, I gaze at the lights outside.
"I did go," she says. “We came to get more beer. I wish you were here, Nova. There are so many hotties!” I laugh as I hear someone on the other end of the telephone yell at her to shut up.
“Have you spoken to Trevor, by the way?" I frown as the question catches me off guard.
"Yeah, why?" I say, unsure. She takes a long pause before speaking.
“He is super wasted, Nova.”
"Don't be sad, Nova! I'm totally keeping an eye on him, and he's been playing beer pong with Sean and Danny the whole night. He's just a mess." I grin at my friend’s good intentions.
"No problem, babe. So, how's the night with my future husband going?"
"Well, Max has been watching terrifying movies for the past three hours, and I'm starting to lose my mind from his constant screaming. I'll have to spend the night with him because father dearest isn't likely to show up tonight." I lean against the window, rolling my eyes.
"He's a total douche. God, I really hate him sometimes."
"Yeah …" I get an incoming call from an unknown number, and I tell Caroline to call me when she gets home before hanging up and answering.
I grumble and walk back over to the couch, pushing myself off the glass wall.
"Hello?" For a short moment, the other line is silence before I hear the sound of someone’s hard breathing, sending shivers down my spine.
"Hello, Nova." I knit my eyebrows together and pull the phone to look at the caller I.D, only to see that it was an unknown number.
"Who is this?"
The voice speaks again after another silent interval, his words sounding frightening and sinister as they leave his mouth.
"The Halloween King ..." after the words left his mouth, he hangs up, leaving me with sweaty palms and a shaking.
My thoughts return to the headlines and the repeating stories of the 14 murders that occurred in my town a few years ago. The killings were so heinous that it took the morticians several weeks to return the remains to their families. Even then, the caskets had to be sealed during the funeral. A note was discovered with each person, a short poem about the girls with a signature at the conclusion. The killer referred to himself as "The Halloween King," and talked about his search for his perfect "Halloween Queen," whatever that meant.
Holding the phone in my hands, I breath in and out trying to find an explanation for the phone call or the message behind it. It was probably some stupid prank call; it's halloween after all, right?
"He's here." I snap my head back to look at Max, now standing and facing the door, saying something in a sing-song voice. With wide eyes, I gulp hard and walk over to Max.
"What are you talking about, Max?" He doesn't move to glance back at me, disregarding or not hearing me.
I move closer and say, "Max," louder. I stay still for a moment, waiting for Max to reply when I hear three firm knocks on the front door. Max's eyes widen as he finally looks up at me.
"Max, go inside dad's room and hide. Don't come out until I come to get you, okay?" I take his hand in mine and pull him into the room, whispering to him. I hear the doorbell ring and a man's voice speaks from the other side.
"Trick or treat," a masculine voice says, echoing Max's sing-song voice from a few minutes ago.
My pulse races as I dash to the kitchen, carefully opening one of the drawers and pulling up the largest knife I could find to defend us.
"Trick or treat," the man says once more, followed by two heavier knocks on the door. I take a cautious step, clutching the knife to my chest and scooping up the phone off the coffee table. As I come closer to the door, I get on my toes to peer through the peephole. I see a dark man standing outside, his face lit up with a huge smile. My breath becomes stuck in my throat, and I believe my heart has stopped beating for a moment. I gather some confidence from deep inside myself and finally speak up.
"We don't have any candy," I say. I wait for him to respond, but all I hear is a low, deep chuckle from the other side.
"Are you certain? What? No sweets?" I overhear him inquire. Before responding, I close my eyes and take a deep breath in.
"No, no sweets," I reply.
"I'm sure you've got something delicious in you ...," he says. When I hear the voice approaching closer, I take a step back from the door, eyes wide in fear. On the other side, his chuckle is deep and ominous as he knocks on the door. I take a step back and pull out my phone from my back pocket, dialing 911, only for the line to be cut off as they answer. A message appears on my phone as I look down at it with furrowed brows.
Unknown: open the door ...
I yell out loud, moving back towards the glass window. "Just leave me alone!" I yell, before I hear the subtle click of the door unlocking. His chuckle gets louder before everything falls quiet. The sound of my heavy breath and the thump of my heart filling the still air. Tears stream down my cheeks, and I cover my mouth with my hands to prevent myself from sobbing out loud. After hearing another click on the bottom lock of the door, I finally move my feet and hurry towards my father's room. I cautiously unlock and latch the door before proceeding to the closet. I find Max hiding with his head buried between his knees.
"I'm afraid, Nova." Max’s small whimper fills the room. I carefully close the closet door and embrace Max, his cheek streaked with tears.
"It's all right; I'm not going to allow anything to happen to you. Nothing."
"Nova, I'm not scared for myself. I'm scared for you. He's looking for you."
I hear my phone ring, and a message comes up as Max finishes his sentence. I read the message, tears streaming down my face. My hands tremble so violently that my phone falls to the floor, and the room fills with a loud thump as the closet doors slide open.